2 weeks, 10 villages, 239 ‘mysterious’ deaths: COVID now batters rural India

Poor testing, little awareness, crumbling health system, self-medication…the country’s villages are on the brink

Officials say the only way out is to ramp up testing in rural areas

If the first wave of COVID pandemic had swathes of urban India ravaged, then the deadly second wave seems to be wreaking havoc on the hinterlands of the country.

Haryana’s villages, for instance, are bearing the brunt. A quick look by The Federal suggests at least 239 “mysterious deaths” took place in fewer than two weeks in just 10 villages of the state. Villagers said symptoms — high fever and breathlessness — were more or less the same in all the deaths. Officially, not all the deaths were listed under the pandemic though.

Also read: Exclusive: 15k daily COVID deaths in India by May end, says prominent US disease modeller

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At least 50 people died mysteriously in the last two weeks at Bas alone in Hisar district. Raj Kumar, the sarpanch at Bas, confirmed the numbers with The Federal.

Another 40 were reportedly dead at Titoli in Rohtak district. According to reports, the village had been sealed and declared as a containment zone. A COVID testing drive in the village found at least 25 per cent of samples turning positive.

According to reports, Hisar’s Sisay village too witnessed over 25 deaths in the last two weeks. Sources said most deaths remained unreported as villagers did not get themselves tested, despite showing clear COVID symptoms. In Hisar’s Balsamand and Behbalpur village, 15 and 16 people lost their lives respectively.

Likewise, in Sonipat’s Jaati Kalan village, 16 deaths were recorded and 10 in Bhiwani’s Chang village.

Devender Kumar, who heads the village, said, “Three confirmed COVID deaths have sent shockwaves through the village. We are asking people with symptoms to get tested immediately.”

In Jhajjar district’s Jhadli and Beri villages, 37 bodies were cremated as per COVID protocol.

“The situation has turned really grave in some villages. In my village, Baroda of Sonepat, 30 persons succumbed in the last 10 days. In another Sonepat village, nearly 100 out of 130 were tested positive,” a senior doctor at PGIMS, Rohtak, said.

Situation grim everywhere

The situation has been grim elsewhere too. In Uttar Pradesh, 26 people were reportedly dead at Kasba in Shahjahanpur and at least 10 people succumbed in Sadharanpur Khurd village of Inchauli area in Meerut district.

Media reports suggest a sudden spike of deaths in rural West Champaran of Bihar. Similarly, the COVID death rate in rural areas of Gurdaspur in Punjab is more than double that of urban pockets, reveals data released by the local administration.

About 18 people died in the last 15-20 days in the rural areas of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. In the last 20 days, 90 people succumbed at Chogath in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district.

Also read: Modi more intent in stifling criticism than controlling COVID: Lancet

According to media reports, villages in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam are also witnessing a sudden spike in COVID cases.

Villagers rely on self-medication

So where does the problem lie? According to doctors and experts, The Federal spoke to, there is little awareness among villagers, compared to their urban counterparts.

A government doctor, seeking anonymity, in Hisar said, “Most villagers don’t even get tested and even if they do, they try to hide it from fellow villagers due to the stigma attached with COVID. The biggest problem is that there are no doctors at PHCs in rural areas. People are trying self-medication or consulting quacks which make the situation really grave.”

Officials in Haryana said that they would ramp up testing in rural areas. Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala said, “We need to increase tests in rural areas to avoid further spread of COVID.”

 

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